I am referring to a context that, I feel, many of us are familiar with. After you have written/typed a text you usually check to see if there are mistakes (typos) but, despite a careful re-reading of each line, some typos still escape your attention. It is as if what you see with your eyes were not what your brain perceives.

Is there a term or an expression (formal or informal) to define this common phenomenon?

  • 2
    I'd call it "the the dog". (There is the old visual trick of a sign displaying two lines: "BEWARE OF THE / THE DOG". Hardly anyone notices the problem on first reading.)
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 12, 2016 at 13:03
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    I really hope Sven weighs in on this. If anyone has a word for this, he will.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 12, 2016 at 13:05
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    FWIW an old proofreader's trick is to read the piece backward, which forces you to process the words individually.
    – Jim Mack
    Mar 12, 2016 at 13:33
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    Unfortunately for me the process is "read it" because I spot mistakes without even trying. You'd think that would be a good thing, and it's great when I'm proofreading things, but it's a nightmare when I'm just trying to enjoy a novel. Mar 12, 2016 at 13:34
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    It's exactly the same in speech - we hear what we're expecting to hear, and we read what we're expecting to read. So it's more a matter of observer-expectancy effect than the mechanism by which you become "desensitized" (as in searching for a faint gas leak, where after a while your nose gets "tired" and you just can't detect it any more). Mar 12, 2016 at 13:34

7 Answers 7


Typo blindness is an informal term. A Google search of the quoted pair yields 411 hits, so it might not be common, but it is out there.


The brain will often fill in missing or incorrect information without us realizing it. Perhaps the most famous example is filling-in visual blind-spots using the surrounding information.

This type of data correction is sometimes referred to as interpolation (see this paper as an example). In mathematics, it means to estimate data values based on surrounding data. With text, the brain is able to fix many mistakes without us being consciously aware of them.

There was a meme that made the rounds a while back based on this. It was based on the idea that people can easily read text even when the letters have been scrambled in a certain way. The phenomenon was informally referred to as Typoglycemia.

See this for a more scientific response to the meme.


Chabris and Simons (they of the studies on invisible gorillas on baskedball courts and such) call this the "illusion of expectation." Our brains see what we expect: the words we intended to place there.

This is an aspect of inattentional blindness ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inattentional_blindness#Expectation ), or perceptual blindness.


Latent is an common word to describe something that remains but is unseen:

Present, but not visible, apparent, or actualized. Hidden or concealed. Something that exists but is not obvious. (Multiple sources)

Some common expressions using the word are

  • latent error
  • latent image
  • latent fingerprint
  • latent skill
  • latent threat

I don't see why you can't call these latent typos (for latent typographical errors) or more generally latent mistakes/errors.

But a simple word like unnoticed works just as well.


I would suggest this a sub-division or perversion of the well-known idiom 'seeing is believing', in that perhaps 'not seeing is not believing'.

Typically the user will only see what they want to see, despite possible overwhelming evidence to the contrary.


Do you require a noun for the phenomenon itself? If not, you could express it as "A fresh pair of eyes can often spot typos quickly".


Selective Perception is the tendency not to notice and more quickly forget stimuli that cause emotional discomfort and contradict our prior beliefs.

Since thinking is hard, your brain takes shortcuts. If you've already read a sentence, your brain "knows" what it says, any new typos don't fit your cognitive model and are ignored unless really obvious (and sometimes not then).


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